A few thoughts and observations on two charts on debt and deficits since the mid forties to the present.
Follow mainly the red line, which is public debt. Media pundits often comment on the entire debt (the black line) which is not relevant because it is out of government policy control. Fa more important is the record of fiscal responsibility of the Federal Government.
Notice first that our national indebtedness was casually declining for decades after the stimulus spending of WWII, but rose dramatically during the glory years of "reigning in spending" with Reagan and Bush I. It tapers off and eventually declines during the evil, radical, socialist, big spending, big taxing years of Bill Clinton, but then it goes up and up and off the charts during the fiscally responsible, spending cutting, tax-freedom-loving years of Bush II. Finally, with a combination of the loss of tax revenue from joblessness and increases in stimulus spending that began in the last months of the Bush administration, it continued to rise through the horrible, evil, socialist, tax-loving years of the Obama Administraton.
My characterizations were humorous to make a point. The Tea Partiers and their Fox/Talkshow/Republican allies seem to be blaming the Democrats for our debt and in reality it has generally gone down with Democrats and up with Republicans. It went up most during the Bush administration with the income losses of three tax cuts, two wars, a drug treatment program, a huge expansion of government, and the Wall Street Bailout, with no countering plans for paying anything back.
To be fair to Mr. Bush, his debt began during the 2001 recession when people lost their jobs and their ability to pay taxes. That recession was caused by a tech bubble explosion and not government action (though he was known to blame it on Bill Clinton's policies). But all of the rest of the trillions in debt that we acquired during his time in office should be laid at his doorstep.
The Clinton Administration handled the debt with a combination of tax increases and budget cuts. Both were painful, but both were responsible and ultimately (though I did not agree with all of the cuts at the time) they brought us closer to a balanced budget and gave the Bush/Cheney administration the healthiest balance sheet we'd seen in years.
With some qualifications, I would support the same right now, except that I would argue for postponing the spending cuts until the economy is more stable. Right now large budget cuts of the kind that Obama is proposing and even larger that the irresponsible Republicans are proposing, would damage the recovery and keep us deep in pain until the next election (hmmm, which may well be the Republican plan).